Beauty and the Beholder

Life contains things that we consider beautiful as well as those things that we consider not so beautiful. Ok—ugly. I remember growing up learning the chant—U.G.L.Y. you ain’t got no alibi, you ugly…you ugly. I know, that was not very redemptive. However, that silly little chant reveals the point, we think some things are ugly, while on the other hand, some things are beautiful. Digging a little deeper, we all long for beautiful things. How many of us want to marry an ugly person? How many of us long to see the birth of an ugly baby? When it comes to our culture, we spend billions upon billions of dollars to beautify ourselves. From the latest fashion, to the latest make-up and hairstyle, we strive to dress our lives in beauty—even if it is subjective beauty. In short, we are infatuated with beauty in a world that contains so much ugly.

Have you ever thought about why we love beauty so much? I believe that the concept of beauty is etched in our very nature. God created us in his glorious image, an image that should not reflect anything but beauty, splendor, and glory since there resides nothing in God contrary to beauty. He epitomizes beauty! Not only does he epitomize beauty, he created it. He looked upon his creation and deemed it “good.” Thus I believe that innate within the human desire rests the longing and need for beauty.

Since we have been innately designed with the need for beauty, we are therefore infatuated with beauty. The problem is, our lives as well as our world contains some pretty ugly things. Little things like blemishes, balding, and beer-bellies are small ugly things compared to that of diseases, disasters, disappointments, and deaths. Daily we combat the miniscule ugliness that invades our lives, which can be like pesky mosquitos. But it is the larger, more painful, side of ugliness that deeply affects humans. Things like cancer eroding the body, the lay-off at the company that mismanaged finances, the inability to get pregnant, the divorce that exploded like a volcano, the piling debt, the betrayal of friends or a community, the rejection from a relationship or job, or the loss of a loved-one are elevated levels of ugliness that constantly affect our lives. There are also other larger aspects of ugliness that reside within our world that we face, things like violence, murder, poverty, corruption, greed, terrorism, wars, racism, and more. So there are two questions for us living in a world tainted by ugliness, all the while longing for the beauty. First, how do we cope within this broken world? Second, where do we place our hope in this broken world?

Our coping mechanism within a broken world tainted by ugliness rests within our soteriology, or our belief in salvation. If we know our world and lives (although they contain glimmers of beauty and the beautiful) are broken, damaged and distorted, then that knowledge leads to the search for salvation—a saving or redemption from the brokenness and ugliness of our world. Take the Enlightenment for example. Knowing that the world was broken and contained much ugliness, the Enlightenment promised redemption and healing through man’s reasoning abilities. If man could identify the problem, he could reason, think, and create a way forward that potentially could usher in a state of peace and healing. The coping mechanism centered around man and what he could do and achieve.

In addition, political or governmental systems nobly attempt to rid the society of the brokenness and ugliness that resides therein. Therefore, many people look to the government to “fix” the ugliness. Again, the coping mechanism centers around humanity and what they can do to beautify the world. Furthermore, most religious systems build salvation and redemption around man. If man can labor towards moral and social good, and be good enough, then they will save themselves and to some degree make something beautiful of the world. Once again, the coping mechanism for people like this focuses on the efforts of man. Therefore salvation lies with humanity. And if we were really honest, and astute observers of history, we would be realize that trusting in man for salvation and redemption from the ugly, broken, damaged, and distortion of our lives and our world is futile. How can the one who authors and continues to author such ugliness, brokenness, and distortion be the redeemers of such?

However, I believe Scripture reveals another center, another focus, of salvation. The Bible’s grand story centers around the God-man Jesus Christ who has entered into our broken world and substituted his perfect, beautiful, unbroken, unblemished, and sinless life for our broken, damaged, distorted, and sinful lives. He exclaims that he came to “seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Therefore, Jesus becomes our coping mechanism, especially when we face the ugliness, brokenness, and twistedness of life. We cope, for we trust in our great God and Savior who has broken into the brokenness of our world and of our lives, and promised salvation and redemption for all those who believe. For those who believe in him, he begins the process of sanctification—the process of being made holy, or being conformed into his image. In other words, those who believe begin the process of being made whole. Thus, we face the brokenness of our world and [even] of our lives knowing that God is in the process of redeeming and reconciling all things to himself through Jesus Christ (Col 1:20).

While our understanding and belief about soteriology—that true salvation and redemption is found only in Jesus Christ—provides solace as we cope with the brokenness of our world and of our lives, our understanding and belief about eschatology, or our belief about the end times, provides great hope as we cope. Hope defined looks forward to the things yet unseen. As the author of Hebrews put it, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). While we cope in Jesus—knowing that he has redeemed us from our sin and brokenness and is in the process of making us whole—we hope in Jesus knowing that he is coming a second time to fully restore the brokenness of our world and of our lives. Jesus declares that he is making all things new (Rev 21:5). The end vision that John paints contains a new remade world, one where mourning, crying, pain, and death will have passed away (Rev 21:4). So as we fix our hope on the author and perfecter of our faith, and his great promise of a new remade city, we find great hope—a hope that energizes our spirit to move forward in this life as we (have been called to) proclaim (and even tangibly demonstrate to some degree) the salvation, redemption, and future restoration of our Great God and King, Jesus.

Therefore, beauty truly describes the Beholder. In addition, beauty is in the eyes and plan of the Beholder; the one who created the heavens and the earth, the one who created man in his own image, who watched man damage, distort, and “uglify” his world, is in the process of remaking the world. He seeks to redeem, restore, and recreate his world into its pre-fall state. From his vantage point, the world is in the process of being remade into something fully beautiful, glorious, and splendorous. [Please note: I am not trying to discount the glimmers of beauty and good that exists now in the world. My attempt within this post has been to point out the brokenness that does exist in our lives and our world and where we can turn to cope and find hope.] Learning to see life and even the future from his vantage point will help us both cope and hope in this world as we face the ugliness and brokenness of sin. In addition, looking from God’s vantage point speaks to us that he truly can take that which is deemed ugly and dirty and make something beautiful. Therefore, don’t give up on God just yet. Behold him and know: he can take that which is ugly, damaged, distorted, twisted, and broken and make something beautiful, glorious, and splendorous. 

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